Former 'Idol' finalists dish about their behind-the-scenes digs
By Christopher Rocchio, 01/16/2007
Millions of people across the country know what takes place during the few hours American Idol contestants are on-stage each week. But what happens the other thousands of hours when Idol hopefuls live together in luxury bunkhouses, sharing numerous household amenities?
"We were like kids in a candy store," original Idol finalist Ryan Starr recently told The New York Post. "We were running up and down the stairs, using the elevator, and we jumped in the pool with our clothes on. We had never seen a house that big."
During Idol's first season in the summer of 2002, as well as its next two seasons, home for the 12 finalists was a four-story mansion in Bel-Air, with little freedom that included no driving, no visitors and a strict curfew. The residency for contestants has since moved to a luxury apartment complex three miles from the Los Angeles studio where Idol is filmed, and executive producer Ken Warwick told The Post the move was significant because the previous living situation had been "detrimental to the show." However while the location may have changed, the rules remained the same.
"It was like boot camp. All we did was practice. We worked our butts off, from 5 or 6AM to 10 at night," Idol 2 finalist Kimberly Caldwell told The Post. "It was stressful. The only time we got to chill was on Wednesdays; it was the last dinner for whomever got kicked off, so we went to an Italian restaurant and ate too many carbs."
All work and no play is no fun, and while more recent contestants have had a stylist, clothing allowance and gifts from designers, those who appeared in earlier seasons of the Fox mega-hit had no such luxuries.
"We rode around in one big van that smelled really bad," Starr told The Post. "We'd have three hours to go shopping. I often made my own clothes; I'd be in the closet, sewing my costume together."
Idol 2 third-place finisher Kimberly Locke said she felt like she had "cabin fever."
"There were a lot of rules," she told The Post. "To have someone tell me that I can't go out and take myself to the store, that took a lot of adjusting."
But being in close quarters with the same people for weeks on end does have its advantages, according to some former contestants who benefited from the move to the luxury apartments, which include a pool, spa and concierge service. As cliques formed, the contestants' downtime and how they spent it became more of an issue.
"They told us to never have drinks unless they're in a glass. No beer bottles," Idol 4 finalist Scott Savol told The Post, adding that he and his fellow male contestants frequented Hooters. "[Idol 4 finalist] Anthony Federov's such a clean-cut kind of guy; Hooters to him felt like a gentlemen's club."
Other than bowling excursions and trips to restaurants, many former Idol contestants said they would just enjoy a night in.
"Me and [Idol 4 finalist] Nadia [Turner] would have a glass of wine and watch TV," Idol 4 finalist Jessica Sierra told The Post. "Our room had lots of candles, and we always had incense burning. People would come over; it was really nice and relaxing."
But some contestants, including Idol 5 runner-up Katharine McPhee, decided the strict rules were cause for rebellion.
"I snuck out. Totally," McPhee told The Post. "They didn't know. And I did it often. I never slept in my parent's house, but I did go to my boyfriend's."
Of course, Tuesday nights in the Idol apartments are all about casting your vote, similar to what takes place in millions of households across America. While Idol is broadcast live on the east coast, it airs three hours later on the west coast, allowing the contestants to watch and vote.
"I remember being in the apartment after the show was taped, with everyone voting for themselves on their cellphones," Idol 4 finalist Vonzell Solomon told The Post. Added Savol, "We'd sit and watch the show 8PM our time. We'd make fun of each other for stuff we did. We teased [Idol 4 runner-up] Bo [Bice] for jumping on tables, [Federov] for his little dance moves. A lot of people teased me for looking mean."
While Savol was ribbed for appearing to be mean, Sierra said other contestants did more than just play the part.
"I'm not going to say we all got along, because we didn't," she told The Post. "[Idol 4 finalist] Constantine [Maroulis] was very competitive and cocky; sometimes that really got on people's nerves. It's not all one big family like people say."
Idol 5 finalist Bucky Covington described his experience bunking away from home for the Fox series as both stressful and fun.
"You lose touch with the outside world the whole time you're there," Covington told The Post. "If you go out to eat, there were security guards with you. You don't drive anywhere; someone drives you. I'm one of those people who can't stand not having his own car. But you stay so busy you don't have time to think about it."
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